Movie Review: The Amusement Park
In 1973, the wholesome God-fearing people of the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania were looking to produce an educational film about the evils of elder abuse. To direct such a project they turned to an up and coming filmmaker from the area with two features already to his name. That director was George A. Romero and those two movies were Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies. He took a film crew to the now defunct West View Park and made a flick which horrified his financiers who according to Garrison Keillor are upright and virtuous people. Believing no good person should ever see the final product, the Lutherans locked this film away where it remained for decades. It was not until recently that a 16mm copy was discovered which made the tour at a variety of film festivals. The streaming service Shudder recently obtained the film to give it a wide release, so now for the first time ever the lost George A. Romero film The Amusement Park can be seen by mass audiences.
The film is introduced to us by a charming host played by Lincoln Maazel, who Romero fans will recognize from his criminally underrated film Martin, in the same fashion as Edward Van Sloan with Frankenstein. He sets the stage by discussing the difficulties in life experienced by those who are elderly. From there we follow our nameless protagonist as he ventures through our world as reflected through the whimsy and chaos of an amusement park. We get a fun introduction as our main character rides a TM Harton & Co.-made wooden coaster, but once he gets off the madness begins. It is through this lens the movie unfolds as Romero through trippy stylization shows the elderly as second class citizens in this society. When a collision happens at the bumper cars, the police at the scene are immediately biased against the older couple involved. Con artists are fleecing them in the midway. Our main character is beaten by a biker gang and then ignored when he seeks medical attention. In one of the most memorable scenes, he is chased down by the audience of a stage show who see him as a freak with no use to society. All the while a grotesque specter only the lead character can see sporadically appears to drive home the point of his imminent mortality.
Romero does not hold back in making the events of this film as disturbing as possible. True to his style, the director sees a social ill and tackles it head-on with no time for subtlety. With this film he was paid to tackle one such issue and did so as only he can. The film wraps with Maazel reiterating that while a place like an amusement park may seem fun to us now, but for the older among us it can be a place of horror and make no mistake the park as shown to us truly is a place of horror. There is a particular moment when a fortune teller is telling a happy young couple the future which awaits them and it is one filled with desolation and tragedy. Through George Romero’s vision we see it is a nightmare-filled place where danger is imminent. Clive Barker once said that when we watch a good horror film, we as the audience should feel like we are at the mercy of a madman and that is definitely true here.
As someone who loves both horror movies and theme parks, I went into the Amusement Park expecting a fun flick, but what I got was one of the masters of the genre at his artistic best. It is a shame that this film was lost for so long and we are so lucky that it has now been rediscovered.